Home Fire News UPDATE: 25 bodies recovered, nine still missing from Santa Cruz Island boat...

UPDATE: 25 bodies recovered, nine still missing from Santa Cruz Island boat fire

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UPDATE: 9/3/19 9:10 AM EST
Katie Dowd
San Francisco Chronicle

Around 3:30 a.m. on Labor Day, the U.S. Coast Guard responded to a mayday call from a a dive boat in distress off Santa Cruz Island in Southern California. They found the vessel completely ablaze.

The Coast Guard says five crew members on the bridge at the time of the fire were rescued by a passing good Samaritan vessel, but 34 others, most of whom were sleeping below deck, were not accounted for at the time of the initial rescue efforts.

Twenty-five bodies had been located as of Monday night, the Coast Guard said. Rescuers initially recovered four bodies, and 16 others were pulled from the water later in the day. Five others have been found but not recovered due to unsafe conditions under the boat.

Nine more people were still unaccounted for, with authorities searching through the night.

According to the Coast Guard, the boat sank in 64 feet of water while crews were fighting the fire. It was 20 yards from the shoreline of the island in the Channel Islands, and rescue teams have been combing the shore for any survivors.

“This is probably the worst case scenario you can have,” Brown said. “It’s a vessel on the open sea in the middle of the night, its 3:30 in the morning … The sleeping compartment is on the bottom of the ship and they would be sound asleep … You couldn’t ask for a worse situation.”

Here’s what we know so far:

— The commercial scuba diving vessel Conception was on a three-day Labor Day excursion. The trip afforded divers the opportunity to visit the Northern Channel Islands.

“On the Labor Day trip, divers have the unique opportunity to explore the pinnacles of San Miguel Island,” the ad on Worldwide Diving Adventures reads. “The beginning of September is the best time to be at San Mig, which see strong winds and swell during much of the year.”

— The boat is owned by Truth Aquatics, based in Santa Barbara, but was chartered by Worldwide Diving Adventures, a Santa Cruz-based company that provides “exotic dive trips, scuba instruction, and local boat diving in Monterey and the Channel Islands.”

The contact information for the Northern Channel Islands trip points to Dan Chua, one of three family members listed on the Worldwide Diving Adventures site. The adventure company was founded in 1972 by Bill Finstad in Santa Cruz. The site says his daughter Kristy and her husband, Chua, both licensed scuba instructors, lead excursions.

— TripAdvisor photos of a Truth Aquatics’ dive boat bunk room show the quarters customers would have used during overnight stays. Beds are stacked two or three tall with curtains for privacy.

— Emergency dispatch audio from the moments after the fire broke out can be heard above. A Coast Guard dispatcher can be heard asking, “Can you get back onboard and unlock the boat?” The crewmember’s response cannot be heard. Someone can be heard saying, “I can’t breathe” amid heavy static.

— There is a question of whether or not the Conception had an emergency escape hatch. The Coast Guard dispatcher asks if there is one on the boat, but an answer isn’t given. Captain Monica Rochester with the US Coast Guard said a boat of that design “usually requires” an emergency escape hatch from the sleeping quarters up to the main deck.

— The Conception left from Santa Barbara Harbor early Saturday morning and was set to return at 5 p.m. today.

— The cause of the fire is not known at this time. The vessel has sunk and is on the ocean floor.

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©2019 the San Francisco Chronicle

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Original 9/2/19:

Source: Ventura County Fire Dept. PIO Twitter

The Ventura Fire Department and U.S. Coast Guard are responding to a massive boat fire off the California coast where officials fear as many as 30 people could be dead.

According to NBC Bay Area, a 75-foot yacht with roughly 35 passengers on board went up in flames early Monday morning.

The Coast Guard has confirmed that a group of crew members has been rescued (with one person having suffered minor injuries), however, there are still a lot of people missing.

Santa Cruz Island is part of the Channel Islands National Park, just north of Los Angeles and off the coast of Ventura.

This is a breaking story and may be updated.

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